Typically it was the act of giving up that drew me in further.
It was in the library, on a Tuesday. On a table in the central reading section sat my current crush, James Hallberry Callson.
I slipped another glance at him. He had short, dark, practically cut hair, a striped shirt tucked in to black trousers, shiny black shoes, and a leather over-shoulder bag. He even had a pen attached to his shirt pocket. If he'd had a pair of dark rimmed glasses you would have had yourself the perfect picture of a young professor, right there. He was always there on a Tuesday, reliably, although he was sometimes there on other days too. Looking so smart and quiet as he read his books. It was the only time when I saw him alone. I wanted to make him laugh and smile and watch his expression change as if he was showing me a rare, beautiful butterfly. He wasn't the type to smile for smiling's sake.
And that was when I simply…gave it up.
I watched him and I thought – enough of this. I wasn't bored of him, no – that was half the problem. But I was annoyed with myself, letting this crush waste my time stupidly. Time to either move forward or leave it for good. He was out of my reach, and this was unnecessary. I should prove to myself that in reality we were incompatible, and move on. I put the book I wasn't really reading back on the shelf – the non-fiction was unfortunately the closest section to where he was sitting – and prepared to make my approach. Well, I would bury it in my departure from the library and pretend it was just a passing greeting. I looked down for something official to do beforehand – put my hands in my pockets to look cooler, or straighten my jacket. But I wasn't wearing a jacket and my pockets were stuffed with old sweets I'd forgotten to remove and didn't really want to touch. I shrugged in general exasperation. That gesture seemed to suffice. I walked over.
He looked up and met my gaze. His eyes were a pale grey. I loved pale eyes. My own were a dull dark brown. I often comforted myself about their plainness by telling myself they were the sort of eyes that gave nothing away. I held the gaze for perhaps just over a second. His expression was blank, uninterested.
"Bye." I gave a small smile and began to turn away. There was no point trying to make actual conversation with him. I would only irritate him by distracting him from whatever he was reading and it's not like he was the sort of guy that would look twice at me anyway. I got about two paces in when –
"Do you fancy me?"
That wasn't meant to happen. I half-froze, the next step jarring before I planted my foot. So much for eyes that gave nothing away. I turned back and looked at him. His expression was neutral, mildly curious if anything. I shrugged.
"Yeah. So?" I had to admit though that his bluntness surprised me.
"Then take a seat." It was impossible to tell if my own bluntness had surprised him in return. He gestured at the seat on the opposite side of the desk to where he was reading.
I frowned, trying to suss out his agenda. Having not a clue, and time to kill, I decided to simply sit down and roll with it. I was trying to come up with some simple conversation starter when he cut in with –
"So what did you want?"
It was damn near unnerving. I had barely sat down properly. I adjusted myself for a moment, but promptly decided I wouldn't be feeling comfortable any time soon. It seemed like a pretty deep question. I decided not to think too much into it.
"To get to know you," I replied.
"To what end?" His words were short, sharp. Those grey eyes bore into me.
I tried not to look as flustered as I felt. "Well…some sort of relationship, I suppose. Is –"
"Some sort seems a bit vague."
"– this some sort of interview?" I raised an eyebrow incredulously. He didn't even blink. I was beginning to wonder if I liked pale eyes that much after all. He paused for a fraction of a second.
"If you like. A lot of people want my attention. To be my boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever." He waved a hand as if batting away a fly. "This seems the most efficient way to choose."
"Seriously?" The sheer arrogance... Did people actually comply with this?
His eyes narrowed and really that was a woeful abuse of perfectly good eyes.
"What is your best quality?" he asked.
A small smile twitched at my lips involuntarily. I could hardly believe this was really happening. How had this started again? But I had time to kill, very little to lose, and this was killing my otherwise encumbering crush by the second.
"Perseverance," I said.
"Tell me something that proves it."
"I'm still here."
"Ha ha," he drawled sarcastically, his voice cold. "Answer."
His coldness riled me a little. "You know you're not going to get the best of people if you interview them like that."
"You're interviewing them for a personal relationship yet only really finding out what they might be like in a business one, at best."
He was only silent now.
"People might find you intimidating…" I trailed off. If this was generally how he was, then technically it did count as getting to know him. It would represent him accurately, as well as people's response to him. Anything he did, really, would find out who was compatible for him. I pondered this a moment. It still seemed like an awfully wrong method.
He remained silent. I gave him a level look, feeling slightly nervous still despite my own rationalisation.
"Right, perseverance… I took ballroom dancing for several years, attended a lesson once every week – back in high school, that was. I suppose that counts."
I saw a flicker of surprise across his face at that, although I'm sure he wasn't aware of it. Maybe I didn't mind pale eyes so much after all.
"And your worst quality?"
I rolled my eyes. "Oh, I'm a perfectionist, you know. Take a little too much time perhaps sometimes to complete a task because I want it done exactly right and I measure achievement by quality and not quantity. However I do like to think that I am also efficient whilst striving for the best." I reeled off the standard weakness with a sarcastic grin. It was difficult to take this seriously, and I refused to give this arrogant guy the honour. He seemed to pick up on the scripted nature of it, but beyond this I couldn't decipher his expression.
"And what is a unique characteristic that you think you could bring to the relationship?"
I had no idea on that one. I tried to think of something intelligent to say or at least sarcastic, but nothing occurred. It depended how you defined unique, really. Many different people shared the same characteristics, just in varying degrees. It was only the particular combination of the interests and characteristics and their expression that made someone truly unique, I mused.
"Me," I answered, somewhat lamely. I don't think he thought much of that answer either. I wondered what other questions he could possibly ask. It wasn't like he had a CV in front of him to pick questions out of.
"What previous experience have you had in this field?"
I stared, half dumbfounded that he actually had the guts to ask something so bluntly, and trying to suppress my smile at the ridiculousness of it. "Generally I would expect to have some sort of relationship with the person before discussing past relationships with them," I answered quietly.
He didn't reply, his face still as stony as ever. Yep, this was doing wonders for driving my crush on him into the dust. At least that was one thing to be gained from this awkward experience.
"One," I said at last. "It ended."
"How can I be sure that any relationship between us wouldn't end up the same way?" There was no hesitation, nothing gentle in his tone at all.
There were a few answers to that. I was assuming that very few people, if anyone, would stay long enough to answer this question if each interview was the same. Was he really trying to be selective, or just drive everybody away? I figured it was time to put an end to this strange encounter.
"Don't choose me," I answered lightly, perhaps both a suggestion as well as an answer to his question. If he wanted any personal information or meaningful remark he wasn't going to get one, certainly not as an arrogant stranger interviewing me. For a long moment we looked at each other in silence, neither backing down.
"You may go. I'll let you know my conclusion at a later date."
I stood up from the desk, and with a final touch of bemusement creeping in, smiled. I hadn't expected that from him at all. In a way it was refreshing. Unusual, intriguing, interesting. Was I inclined to pursue any relationship with him at all now that this had happened? Hardly. Although one always values what is harder to achieve… No. I would not encourage myself in any further interest towards this arrogant kid. With a half nod of goodbye to him, I turned and left.
I considered it one of the weirdest experiences of my life and left it at that. I didn't expect to hear back from him. I suspected he had only conducted his so-called interview to drive me away and amuse himself in the process with his own power over people. I was somewhat unsurprised to find that he didn't appear to have a boyfriend or girlfriend over the next few occasions I glimpsed him. Not that I'd ever seen him with one before that. I kind of felt a little sorry for him, but then I remembered how friendly I had seen him act with his group and shook that thought away. He had just been being arrogant – very arrogant.
I guess I'd fallen in with the wrong crowd at University. Not wrong as in bad, just as in not meant for me. You could say there were two sides to me – as there is to everyone really – a louder side and a quieter one. Well, to cut a short story shorter, I got dragged in with those people that only knew the louder side of me – into bars, clubs, parties, that sort of thing. And whilst I didn't mind it, my quieter side – the reader, the serial film watcher, the one who liked boats, galleries, and plays – well he got a bit lost, really. It was something I didn't exactly regret and put on the backlist of things to remedy. It only bothered me with, well…those lot.
I don't know how you would refer to them. Posh to me seems a little derogatory for what they were. Lovers of 'high culture'? Intellectuals? Basically the band of people that only indulged in things that appealed to my 'quieter' side. And simply because I liked the louder stuff as well it felt as though I wasn't allowed to have it both ways. I saw a group of them look at me one time when I was leaving a party with friends – not even drunk – and they looked at me like us lot were a let down to the human race.
Ok, maybe posh is the word for it. Because there must have been a crowd of people like me that liked both sides of things, but it was a crowd I simply hadn't found yet.
The point is James Hallberry Callson was one of them. I had never caught him looking at me in the past but I had seen him hanging around with his friends; I knew he was part of that lot. One of the 'posh' lot that looked down on me. Well I assumed he did, and it didn't look as though I had anything in my current experience of him to suggest otherwise.
It happened about a week later, as I was out throwing stale bread to the ducks that lived around the large lake in the centre of the university campus. I was there with my friend Thomas and was just in the middle of telling him something when James appeared unexpectedly.
"Here comes His Majesty," Thomas whispered in my ear, cutting me off. I hadn't been able to resist telling him about the interview, but I didn't like his verbal cuts at James since then. I knew he was only defending me and I had no reason to defend James, but it still got on my nerves. I hadn't heard him use this particular quip before though, and so when I heard a voice behind me I jumped embarrassingly, flinging the whole of the remaining loaf into the lake with an ungainly splash. I rounded on the person who had dared to say 'hello' without me expecting it.
"Look what you made me d…oo." My voice caught a little as I recognised who it was. I frowned. "James?"
"That is my name." He had the nerve to sound irritated. He had approached me!
"What do you want?"
He paused, pursing his lips a little. "You've got the job."
Beside me Thomas gasped.
"What job?" I asked automatically.
Thomas snickered. I glared at him, not comprehending. It had been about a week and a half since the interview – I remembered it well enough, but I had dismissed its relevance since then to think that anything James could be saying would relate to it.
"Yeah, what job?" Thomas joined in. Now, his I'm-making-an-innuendo tone is one of the least subtle on the planet, and this was when I finally twigged on. I looked back at James, severely doubting it. His voice was even.
"You wanted to be my boyfriend? Well, you passed the interview." It was like he was simply informing me of the time of day. I stared. Probably because the shock had momentarily frozen my blinking reflex.
"Wanted," Thomas muttered from beside me. I blinked. Then I shot him a look.
"One second," I said, addressing them both. I nudged James' elbow and began walking away, glaring at Thomas to stay behind. We drifted out of earshot. I turned on him. He looked back at me, his expression expectant and impatient. I could barely believe this. Before I had a chance to think I had already felt a pointless bubble of pride and a sense of relief at avoiding rejection after his announcement. I squashed both equally childish feelings as abruptly as I could, cursing automatic responses.
"Are you fooling with me?" I accused him.
He actually looked a little hurt. "If you weren't serious then why did you stay for the interview?"
I nearly laughed just at the absurdity of it. There was so much – so much – I could say to that, most of which was sarcastic and unnecessary. I gave him a long look. Okay, time to get this over with.
"I don't go out with people actually arrogant enough to think that they can interview people for a relationship."
He seemed offended. "I don't have to be arrogant to be able to interview people for a relationship."
"You…you…" I shook my head, unable to stop the grin from spreading despite myself. This was insane, truly insane. "So thinking you can pick and choose whom you want isn't arrogant? Thinking that you can actually choose the best? Whoever you want? And assuming that all the best people will just flock to you like candidates applying for a post…"
He scowled. "I never said that. Don't people always pick and choose their partners? You chose to stay for the interview." He looked as though I was the one who had acted absurdly.
"I was never aware that choosing to stay for the interview meant the same thing as choosing you," I retaliated. For god's sake, I had just been killing time. I had been turned off the whole idea the moment I sat down.
"You admitted you fancied me."
"I don't know you. Just because I fancied you doesn't mean I'm going to accept anything and everything you do!"
"I never said it meant that either."
"You…bloody hell…" Who the hell did this guy think he was? "No. Just no, okay?"
"Why not? You fancied me, I interviewed you, you passed – what is the problem?"
I barely knew how to begin. "I…yes, I fancied you from a distance, before the interview. But I cannot seriously date someone who…who interviews people to be their boyfriend!"
"Do you no longer fancy me?"
I struggled for a moment. Goddamnit. "This won't work."
"Why not? You can't date 'someone who interviews people', or you just don't want to?"
I couldn't think straight. I still felt that what he had done was fundamentally wrong, but it was currently impossible to fish through my thoughts and pull out a coherent sentence. I was still in shock from the fact he had actually chosen me, and the fact that we were actually having such a discussion in the first place. My expectations had been half blown out of the water and I had never expected to be having the choice of considering what I wanted like this. I took a deep breath.
"I can't have this discussion now," I said honestly. "Give me a day to think about it, okay?"
He looked intensely displeased. Without saying a word more he simply turned and left me alone where I was. I took a deep breath and began to make my way back to Thomas.
Back in my apartment block that evening I mulled over the whole of it. It had been the longest I had ever talked to James, which left me a little stunned in itself. Thomas found the whole situation hilarious when I recounted the gist of it to him. I believe his exact words had been, 'Shit, Sam, that guy's got enough self-importance to fill the Albert Hall.' I sighed at the memory. A whole week I had been chuckling to myself about that interview and congratulating myself on drawing the conclusion that we were incompatible long before I had initiated that conversation. The last thing on my mind was actually being accepted. I put macaroni and cheese in the microwave and let its low humming noise soothe me whilst I thought.
It took me a while to get past bloody-hell-hot-guy-actually-wants-to-date-me.
I finished dinner and washed up my plate before retreating to my bedroom. It took me another half an hour to get past that-arrogant-son-of-a-bitch. I lay back on my bed, shifting to avoid The Lump, and mulled over what exactly I was going to do. I could, I supposed, actually date him. Surely that was the ideal I had in mind when I fancied him from a distance? But actually, it wasn't. I just…liked watching him. Liked trying to imagine what he was like, I guess. Imagination always glamorises things. I had let myself have the crush for my own entertainment, never intending to act on it. That was the whole fun of it. And now that I had had a glimpse of his character… Well. I couldn't exactly say that I liked him less. It was interesting to get a glimpse of his personality like that, an odd positive that balanced out the loss of whatever ideal image I'd had of him. Reality was more interesting. I didn't know if that made him any more appealing, however. It just increased my curiosity.
I wanted to know more about him. I couldn't help myself. But I still felt there was something fundamentally wrong with the way he had addressed me on that Tuesday. It hadn't been natural, it hadn't been right. We couldn't progress like that. I couldn't just let him go ahead thinking he was superior in order to learn more about him. I wasn't that eager. So I thought some more. I tried to pin down as best as I could why it had felt like such a misplaced beginning.
I got distracted for five minutes in the middle thinking about how nicely his pale grey eyes contrasted with his dark hair, but then I had it.
The next day I was back at the lake at roughly the same time. It had only occurred to me that morning that we had made absolutely no arrangements of when and where to meet up again to discuss it, and it was highly unlikely that we would bump into each other by chance. The same place and the same time as yesterday seemed my best bet. I sat on a bench and waited. I pretended I didn't feel in the slightest bit nervous. The fact that our previous meetings had passed in a strange, almost business-like manner did not help me feel more relaxed. I wondered if he would even turn up.
There is no way to approach that bench in a way that could take you by surprise. I had seen him approaching down the path from my peripheral vision for several seconds. That didn't stop me from starting a little at his voice. I looked up, contemplated standing up. Contemplated the likelihood of him sitting down. Stood up. I was actually slightly taller than him. I didn't feel it.
"Well?" he snapped.
His tone just made every thought in my conscious mind want to run away to a less intimidating corner. This was ridiculous. I couldn't let him make me feel like this. Bad enough that he thought he was superior. I needed to collect my thoughts. I took a moment, deliberately ignoring the impatient expression on his face.
"Your interview was arrogant," I began.
"I beg to differ."
I ignored him. "You assumed the higher position from the start by initiating the interview –"
"You didn't stop m–"
"I was humouring you." God, he wasn't going to make this easy, was he? I took another moment. "You made no attempt to make it appear as though we were talking on equal ground. Just by the simple act of assuming the mock role of employer, which dominates employee. A relationship is mutual, with no one thinking of themself as the superior partner. Therefore it was an inaccurate beginning for how a relationship should continue. Both have the option to choose to enter a relationship, and with whom."
He merely raised an eyebrow, which was awfully discouraging considering how long I'd taken to get that phrasing right in my head the previous evening. "Your point?" he asked.
"I can't let our relationship go on that way, with you thinking yourself superior. I won't enter into a relationship like that." God this sounded weird.
"You're assuming how I think."
"You're not exactly trying to correct me. I won't have you looking down on me."
"I don't." The tone of the words continued 'and you are an idiot for thinking that of me'. It didn't exactly add to his case.
"I'm not sure I believe you," I said mildly.
He crossed his arms. "How am I supposed to prove to you how I think? And why should I?"
"You should if you really want this relationship." We were discussing – clinically – how to progress with a relationship we didn't have. This was crazy. Did I really have a crush on this guy? I took a deep breath. "As for how…" I paused, tried to read his expression.
"What do you want?" he asked bluntly. I looked at him, letting the silence hang for a moment before I answered.
"I think you owe me an interview."
A/N: This will be a two or three chapter piece only. I'm dipping my toe into fictionpress waters. Please tell me what you think!